This interview was sparked by one simple email. I get emails requesting interviews of many performers, all talented in their own right. This particular email highly praising Michael Gruber was from the owner of his website. I read the site with eyes wide open as it revealed an individual who is a self-described "developing artist" and has accomplished a lot in his career as an actor. Michael Gruber is a consummate performer and it wasn't long before I saw him in Swing! and requested an interview.
Originally from Cincinnati Ohio, Michael was once an All-American diver heading to the Olympics. Performing may have been set aside by his success in diving, but it soon became crystal clear that acting was Michael's true passion. His journey into acting took off and, while no overnight success, he worked his way up taking each part he got as an opportunity to "reinvent" himself. His well received role of Munkustrap in CATS and later the video was considered the signature of Michael's career that has also included The Wizard of Oz (Tin Man), Miss Saigon, My Favorite Year, final company of A Chorus Line(Mike), West Side Story and Singin' in the Rain (Don).
I met up with Michael in his dressing room at the St. James Theatre after a performance of Swing!.
Ed Feldman: I thought we'd start out learning about your family and where you are from.
Michael Gruber: I was born in Cincinnati Ohio. In fact, my parents still live in the house I grew up in. I have two older sisters and an older brother. My sisters live in Philadelphia and my brother in Cincinnati. They all have families and kids.
EF: So, you are Uncle Michael?
MG: Yes (smiling), there are seven children between the three of them.
EF: Is anyone else from the family in acting?
MG: I'm the only one. We are a very diverse group. My sister is one of the Junior Vice Presidents of the health care system at the University of Penn. Hospital. My other sister used to work for Keystone and now is a full time mom. My brother is a computer scientist.
EF: Are you a singing family? Usually there are a few of the family that sing.
MG: No, I am the only one.
EF: Is it they don't sing or can't sing?
MG: They can't sing. There is no real music in the family. My great aunt used to be an opera singer and that is it.
EF: When did you know you wanted to be an actor? It didn't seem like you were surrounded by that kind of culture.
MG: We had a lot of culture. There was a lot of music in the house as well as painting and art. I actually was an all American diver. I was second in the world when I was 14. I went to the University of Michigan on an athletic scholarship. I was very successful at that and was hoping to go to the Olympics and follow that path until I was 18. While at Michigan, I was going to the school of music and knew that was what I wanted. I didn't make the Olympic trials that year and made the decision to get out and devote my time to music. I transferred to the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. I focused in on my performing.
EF: Was it a tough decision to make between diving and acting?
MG: No, not really. It was very clear. My family was even supportive of it. My father, who is fairly conservative, was a little bit panic stricken initially in my choice. Of course, between diving and acting, the acting may have been the lesser of two evils. I don't think it was until I did A Chorus Line (pictured right), which was my first Broadway show, that they shifted gears and really supported my career and knew I could make a living at it.
EF: So, they have attended your shows?
MG: Oh, they are incredibly supportive.
EF: Have they seen you in SWING! Yet?
MG: They will be coming soon to see it. One of my sisters and her husband came up on opening night.
EF: What would you say is a little known fact about yourself?
MG: Hmmm ... I'm pretty open book. I think you stumped me.
EF: Any great stories your parents tell about you when you were a kid?
MG: My mom used to tell of when I was in second grade in a big Christmas pageant. I was one of the shepherds. My mom tells people how I spoke everyone's lines and if they forgot a line, I would yell it from across stage. She knew I had a pension for performing then. I was involved in the athletic world though and I denied myself my creative side. It wasn't till my late 20's that I started to embrace that again and allow my creativity to come forward. I must say I've always been an outsider. I'm one who has few intimate close friends. I'm not one to go out and promote myself. I like to see myself as a developing artist, not a businessman or somebody who wants to be famous. I love the development of the art for my own gratification.
EF: You bring up an interesting point. You can be considered an actor, dancer and singer. In what order would you put these?
MG: First and foremost you have to be an actor which allows you to reinvent yourself and do different things. I tried to do a variety of projects, from playing Don in Singing in the Rain to Cousin Kevin in Tommy to Judd in Oklahoma. After acting, I'm a singer. I also enjoy doing composing. Next is dance which is an extension of the gymnastics and diving of my childhood. I don't consider myself a dancer. I didn't study formally. I sort of have a flair for it and kind of fake my way through it (smiling). I think I have the ability to follow direction and learn the steps and execute them.
EF: If your best friend were sitting here right now, how would he/she describe you?
MG: Well, I hope they would say "kind" because I try very hard to be a kind individual. I'm also quiet and withdrawn and private. I'm reflective. I don't like to be around a lot of crazy energy. It is odd that so much of the work fulfills that aspect. I have the chance to be outrageous or be in the limelight due to the work on stage. So offstage I find myself a bit reclusive. I sometimes have to psyche myself up to meet people or go out. I feel that the work on stage is what they have come and paid to see. In my private life I have to recharge and be private. I enjoy going home and working on music. I'm also a knitter. It is a hobby I adore.